Our approach in coffee & cocoa farming communities
When addressing sustainability in agricultural goods, certification and verification are often perceived as state-of-the-art. For a compelling reason: standards are a valid approach of attempting at making sustainable efforts in production visible to the end consumer.
In our work, we reach a step beyond this. We want to enable the farmer families to grow strong in their operations to achieve higher yields, produce a quality product and get better market access. We also enable the growers to decide for themselves to what extent a certification of their produce could be to their benefit. To know about the procedures it involves, the costs as well as the benefits.
To do so, we focus on smallholder farmers that are not yet organized in farmer organizations. These farmer families represent a big share of the existing producers: depending on the region, estimates are that up to 50% of the growers are not a member of any farmer organization, and up to 30% are caught in weak, inefficient and corrupt organizational structures. This majority is our target group, because they represent a huge potential – both from the perspective of their own livelihoods, but equally from a strategic point of view for the whole of the sector.
We proceed in several steps (click on the step to read more):
In a first step, our Extensionists invite the farmers to join local Farmer Field Schools. These are based on regular meetings in which the beneficiaries can participate in joint learning on pruning, field management practices and a sustainable use of inputs. On demo plots, the immediate impacts of these practices can be observed by comparing them to fields farmed in the traditional way, and the farmers can try new post-harvesting practices, such as drying their coffee cherries on a tarpaulin instead of on the unprotected ground – an effective and low priced way of improving the output’s quality. Over the course of time, we encourage the growers to start monitoring their activities by documenting the amount of inputs used, the costs, the productivity and the income so that they can proactively start their own cost-benefit-analyses.
The Farmer Field Schools serve as a fundamental basis for the formation of a professional farmer organization. The regular meetings and the contact to each other allows the smallholders to not only exchange experiences, but to jointly benefit of economies of scale. As such, the bulked storing, processing, transporting and selling of coffee will become more professional, mostly enabling higher quality and a shorter supply chain. Selling more coffee of higher quality, ideally directly to the export companies, improves the returns of the farmers.
Part of the process in organizational development is the formation of multi-tier organizational structures. The bottom level hereby encloses groups of producers. Among them, they choose a member representing them on the next organizational level, forming second-tier structures such as Depot Committees or cooperatives (the names and formats of the levels differ according to region). These, in turn, aspire to become service providers to their members, creating alliances with financing institutions, encouraging saving groups and establishing strategic cooperation with local suppliers of agricultural inputs. Eventually, at a national level, the delegates of the Depot Committees are forming an apex organization that can negotiate with the private as well as the public sector at an eye level. Our aim: allowing the smallholder farmers to gain a strong position in their operations and becoming a more relevant partner in the world market.
The improvement of farming efforts and household income by itself does not necessarily improve the livelihoods of our beneficiaries. Thinking in family structures, there are many other dimensions that have a strong impact on the quality of life of an individual, among them being food security, access to health care and education.
In some of the areas we work in, the access to resources like income and decision-making power is not equally distributed within the family structures. By means of couple seminars and through the active help of change agents, families sensitize each other to what extend shared decision-making power makes a difference for the entire family. We refer to this as gender mainstreaming approach.
Another component that we actively address is the full integrity of youth to their communities. Young people are more and more leaving their homes, as coffee or cocoa farming does not offer an attractive life perspective to them. In our youth activities, we attempt promoting better access to formal education, entrepreneurial competencies but also training in life skills in order to create a future worth living – within their communities, preventing rural depopulation.